On a recent episode of the Valley Sports Rewind podcast, Bill Davis is walking host Mike Cannici through the 1996 state softball championship game between Seymour and Bristol Eastern.
Jen Hadley, who would go on to pitch for the University of Massachusetts, is on the mound for Eastern. Davis is in his ninth year as Seymour’s coach. It’s the first inning. Davis’ lead-off batter bunts, and beats it out. Jen D’Amato is up second. “I always felt that she could tell me how the game is gonna go,” Davis says of the state MVP who hit .450 at Seymour and would go on to play at the University of New Haven. “If she gets a base hit, then we’re gonna do pretty good against this pitcher.” D’Amato flies out to left field. Davis has his runner steal second. “With my No. 3 batter coming up, who’s a freshman, Hadley’s throwing smoke. I bunt her. The third baseman fields the bunt, and throws it away. We score from second, the [batter] comes all the way to third…” and so on. Davis narrates the pivotal first inning, in which the Seymour Wildcats bunted their way to all three of their runs in a 3-2 victory over Bristol Eastern.
This is what the Valley Sports Rewind podcast is about: the kinds of dramas, serious as can be, that mean the world to those involved. Dramas and narratives that might be lost or fade from collective memory, the guts and creativity to give three bunt signs to the first four batters in a state championship game.
Cannici, a Derby resident and a savant for all things Valley sports, is the host of the weekly podcast that looks back on the transcendent figures and games of Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Shelton and Seymour sports history. Over the course of an hour-long interview with Davis — the legendary Seymour softball coach who won five state titles during his tenure from 1988 to 2004 — Cannici does not need notes. “Since I was a little kid, I was big into baseball cards. So I’d always follow everybody’s stats,” he says. That kind of mind — accustomed to the nitty gritty of numbers, averages, trends — means that Cannici can connect across the decades to some game forgotten by many aside from those most directly involved. “I was always big on following the Valley. I always kept tabs on that. It didn’t matter the sport. I was big on reading the paper all the time. I went to [Derby High] back in the ’90s, so I kinda always followed every team to see what they were doing, who were the best players,” Cannici says.
Cannici started digitizing old Valley sports games, and particularly the Ansonia-Derby football rivalry games, for public-access television back in 2015, uploading the games to a YouTube channel and Facebook page. This would grow into an interview show on public-access television called Hometown Heroes, debuting in June 2015. When Valley Independent Sentinel Editor Eugene Driscoll put out feelers for a sports-related podcast, a friend of Cannici’s recommended him. The first episode went out in July 2016, and Cannici has done dozens since then.
A 1997 graduate of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, Cannici is a good interviewer, helping guests recall minutia and subtle details of a two-decades-old sporting moment or season. The result is a fascinating podcast in which regular people, locals, transform into superheroes. Cannici says that one of the most memorable interviews he’s ever done was with Mike Vacca, the 40-year Ansonia baseball coach who broke down in tears when discussing his teams. “That was a challenge that we were able to get through and it was a great interview. He was very honest about things,” Cannici says. While he says it was a difficult interview, it is a testament to Cannici’s skill as a historian and interviewer that he can bring these emotions out of the hometown heroes.
You can listen to the Valley Sports Rewind wherever you get your podcasts, or by going to valley.newhavenindependent.org.
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